By Kieran Guilbert
DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Hundreds of thousands of children in the Central African Republic are missing out on education as schools struggle to reopen due to violence, displacement and a shortage of teachers, the United Nations children's agency (UNICEF) said on Wednesday.
One in four primary schools in the conflict-hit country - around 500 - are not functioning and a third of school-age children are not going to school, according to UNICEF.
Central African Republic has been beset by violence between mainly Muslim Seleka rebels and Christian anti-balaka militias since the rebels ousted the then president in early 2013.
While many observers hope the recent election of President Faustin-Archange Touadera will help end the unrest, the security situation remains fragile, according to U.N. agencies.
"Resuming schooling is a challenge when around 20 percent of the population (4.6 million) has been displaced," said UNICEF's Central African Republic representative Mohamed Malick Fall.
"There are also security and access issues, the risks for children traveling to school, and a lack of civil servants and teachers, who fled," Fall told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The conflict has uprooted more than 400,000 people within the country and forced almost half a million to seek refuge in neighbouring countries such as Chad, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR).
UNICEF are providing teaching materials and giving catch-up lessons to tens of thousands of uprooted children, while many of the displaced are volunteering to teach, Fall said.
"They might not have the academic background or the training, but it shows great resilience from these people and communities to make sure children aren't missing out on school."
Teachers are being trained to provide psychosocial support, as many children suffer from post-conflict trauma, UNICEF said.
Some children were shy and refused to talk, while others were aggressive and often drew weapons, teachers told the U.N.
Fall hopes that schools will continue to reopen - around 40 percent were closed at the height of the conflict due to attacks, looting and armed occupation - to help protect children from violence, recruitment into armed groups, and sexual abuse.
UNICEF on Wednesday unveiled details of a fund to help get children back in class during emergencies, which aims to reach 13.6 million children within five years and 75 million by 2030.[L5N1805U4]
(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Katie Nguyen; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)